Galaxy

The young woman had caught a jetliner east to Jersey to spend the Holidays with her “best friend,” the term that she used both genuinely and euphemistically with her Mormon mother; genuinely because it was true and euphemistically because she was also the young woman’s lover or at least had been in the now-long-gone-days of Rutgers. They had scuttled their erotic passion for a passionate social media, Skype and text message friendship as the young woman slid into a bland career of marketing nearby her divorced (the scandal!) Mormon (perhaps…unwell) mother and her Jersey lover skated easily into the Queer bohemia of the Tristate. So, the Holidays of 2006-2007 broke onto the horizon pregnant with possibility and already haunted by hope.

 

And Christmas Day broke upon the two young lovers with a splintered gold and blue sky magic that sent them into a mania that would, before the night fell, include hi-jinks and escapades: dining and dashing from a greasy spoon in SOHO with the excuse that they had forgotten their purses at the hotel; tongue kissing atop a sidewalk vent with impractical skirts billowing like Marilyn Monroe’s and cabbies cat-calling with their horns; rifling a strangely open retro clothing shop for Audrey Hepburn costumes in which to linger at 5 star hotel bars, sipping cosmopolitan after cosmopolitan; gobbling hot slices feverishly on a frozen bench at Washington Square Park, pillbox hats askew, cigarette holders tucked behind reddened ears as the greasy shadows began to grow long. They paused only for the young woman to dial her Mormon mother twice on her Samsung Galaxy and leave sweet, tipsy apologetic messages that did not acknowledge the mother’s jilted anger at being “abandoned for the holidays.”

 

So it was markedly horrific in that way that only the promise of mania jilted and sabotaged by the plunge into darkness can be when the women lost track of each other outside an Irish Bar in the West Village and the young woman from Mormon country was discovered by a dishwasher in the small hours of December 26th with clothes and throat ripped in unnecessarily thorough manner, her lifeblood pooling beneath a dumpster.

 

The Mormon mother blamed the Jersey lover, of course, and how could she not? The Jersey lover blamed herself for without the distraction of a small bladder and a shot of Jameson proffered by a kindly Indian businesswoman, she might have not dallied in the elbowed interior of that bar while her lover slipped out the door for a smoke and toward her awful end. And so she forewent attendance of the young woman’s funeral. The Jersey lover respected the mother’s sorrow and did not disturb it by any intention for a full year. She tucked herself away into a pocket of her old life and ate Xanax and made it till tomorrow until one night she knew she might not and in a stumble fury dialed her dead lover’s phone number in the vague hope that she could at least hear her voicemail greeting and scream pain or apology or perhaps rage into the virtual mailbox.

 

The mother, possessed by a similar longing to, a), somehow connect with her gone daughter via telephone and, b), somehow aid the apprehension of the person responsible for her brutal death (as if they would for some reason call the number), had kept the worse-for-wear Samsung Galaxy that NYPD detectives had delivered up to her in a jumbo size Ziploc along with lipstick, tiny sequined purse, Virginia Slim Light 100s, and six orange tic-tacs. So she snatched up every ring that came in, fielding calls from clueless classmates, from advertising execs, from telemarketers, always with urgency, always with a hello? that said, instead, who are you and what have you done? The Jersey lover, to her credit, paused and bit through the cognitive fog of Xanax and rapid-cycling grief and spoke the Mormon mother’s name aloud, for the first time in her life, as a question:

 

Genevive?

 

And though neither party got what they had wished for when their hands punched the numbers in hopeless ritual reaching, they did find one another and they did weep together on the line and they did share stories deep into the late winter night and they did seed a relationship that would come to resemble something like that between a mother and her daughter.

How to Slip Your Cage

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For survivors of Narconon and the Church of Scientology

First, pretend to be delighted that you get to enter. If you buck and fight, it will only end in your blood spilt and a longer time until you are ultimately free. If you buck and fight, they will take the violence out of you and turn it against you so that your first couple of days in the cage will be spent on the ground (not that there is anywhere else to be) and in agony—trust me, I made the wrong choice. So you must enter willingly, will forth a tear if they don’t flow naturally, act relieved to finally be getting the help you need.

 

Second, do not look for a comfortable place to arrange your body. You will not find it. There are no chairs, no bunks, not even so much as a ledge to perch your ass upon. You have a floor and walls with the uneven roll of hand-hewn log cabin, so leaning your spine against them is no relief. You have to figure out how to sit on a dirty wooden floor in a way that doesn’t produce agony or, if like me, this is impossible—with all the bruises and scrapes—you have to learn how to sit through agony. This is probably the best thing, so in that case, if you need an extra dose of agony to create the necessity of sitting through it, disregard step #1.

 

Third, eat the vitamin blasts that they push on you through the cracked door as if there were the most delicious fucking snack you’ve ever tasted. Suck down the horse pill capsules like they are pieces of your lover whom you can only save by devouring. Feel the gritty work of those capsules in your abdomen, the slow slink of a hundred doses of vitamins into your veins. Trust not that they are good for you, not in their claims that they will silence the voices in your head or extinguish the gnawing need for dope, but trust that compliance is your only hope of escape and so swallow those fuckers.

 

Fourth, defecate and urinate in the bucket. Do not succumb to urges to paint arcs on the dark wall. It will not spite them because you will be forced to live with the stench and ultimately clean it up. Do not succumb to this also because it will make you appear yet more deranged and will extend the time you spend in your cage.

 

Fifth, when they bring stacks of paper to sign, sign. Do not ask questions and do not try to read the tiny font in the weak light that slices a rectangle around the door. Do not attend to useless thoughts about your rights, or lack thereof, or the meaning of your signature on those many pages. Refusing to sign, or asking questions or trying to read the tiny font, even, will probably earn you another blast of vitamins and another day at least to consider the foolishness of resistance.

 

Sixth, when the voices get louder, listen closer. Because here’s the thing: the voices are your own. And even if they’ve landed you in a lot of trouble in the past, when you’re locked in a cage breathing feces in the dark for long enough, jailed by people with blind faith, no mercy, ballpoint pens and vitamin blasts, the voices will begin to serve you instead of betray you. The voices will tell you the truth: that these people are not going to let you out until you deny your voices. That these people are not going to let you out until you profess that your cravings for dope have subsided.

 

Seventh, if the voices guide you, obey them. If they say to scream out in agony, do so. If they say to scream for mercy, do so. If they tell you to mutter gratitude to your captors, do so. If they tell you to remain silent for long stretches, do so.

 

Eighth, when you no longer expect the door to open, expect the door to open.

 

Ninth, when the door opens, remain still and make an attempt to smile.

 

Tenth, when they ask you if you think you are ready to come out, tell them you think you need just a little bit longer.

Carousel

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The light of the carousel is not kind. It’s the kind of light you’d expect in a dentist’s office, not searing down onto the fantastical hoop of painted ponies bobbing on brass poles and delighted, red-nosed toddlers. It seems that every carousel I’ve ever seen has one sleigh on it—a flat bench that might fit a small family, just in case someone not able or willing to scramble up the slick plastic side of a horse wanted aboard. I stand between two ponies, my palms on the lower backs of my son and his friend. We are directly behind the sleigh. After the first couple of revolutions, a few dozen squeals of joy from my kiddo and the dozens around us, I finally notice the woman on the sleigh. She’s wide, white-haired, somewhere amid a rocky seventy-something years. Her jacket is cheap flannel and a dusting of what might be flour rides her right shoulder. Her hair has segregated itself into greasy clumps. At her side are the rumpled, hard-held bags responsible for the ugly title that pops in my mind as flashbulbs pop around us: bag lady. She crosses one leg over the other and leans back, her slab of worn face aimed out into the night, over the heads of all the whooping, waving parents. No matter what scape the carousel presents her with—damp wall of a department store, squads of bike cops massing for an impending protest, the sixty-foot Evergreen the mall has garishly decorated, even Macy’s brilliant North Star—her expression never shifts, nor does her gaze. She takes what she’s presented with, every once in a while lifting a thick, ragged thumbnail to her teeth. She’s spent three dollars for this sleigh on this carousel. She’s spent three dollars to go around and around wrapped in cruel light with children’s laughter spilling around her. The thought that she represents the inverse of childhood, of joy feels ugly, but there it is. Maybe the carousel is a reminder to her of a long-lost child—her own, or herself. Maybe her cloudy eyes are seeing something after all. She’s a reminder, maybe, to us young parents to not just let ourselves and our children be carried round and round and round until all we are left with, like her, is memory.

The Traveling Ashes

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When the fires began nobody was thinking about ashes. When the fires began everyone was thinking about flames. To be more direct, everyone was thinking about what those flames would do to them or their loved ones or their house or their stash of ganja or fine merlots if given the chance to get that close. And get that close the flames did. They licked towns like dogs lick paws, but with none of the Zen focus. On the contrary, the licking of the towns in the valley—which was formed by a radical V of highly incendiary scrub pine and brush lands—was chaotic and loud. People speak of natural disasters as separate entities: flood, earthquake, tsunami, etc. What only people who have been licked by wildfire know is that fires are more than fires, they are also storms. When the skies darkened more fully at 5 p.m. than they would normally at midnight that July afternoon, the preview couldn’t have been more clear. And that was the horrific thing: dark skies were the preview and before anyone had time to suck one last full breath of summer air, their lungs were constricted by acrid smoke, red hot embers whirled in tornado gusts around their heads and the heat index soared as fast as the hawks abandoning roosts—babies and all—for the east. The hawks were the first ones to carry the ash away.

The Return

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October 6th, 2014, 12:03, CSTC

 

On my way down Steilacoom Boulevard, approaching Western State Hospital and CSTC, I was listening to a podcast about a man who discovered as an adult that his mysterious father was most likely the Zodiac killer that rained horror on the country for decades, torturing and slaughtering dozens of people. His story was inconclusive; the man will never meet his father because he died twenty years ago. The soundtrack of the podcast kicked on as I turned onto the campus: the razor wire winking in the middle distance, the dilapidated cottages that front the place, seemingly abandoned, the drab landscape of insitutionalism. Fat Canadian Geese tried to block my way, like protesters but rather poorly organized. Inside of the school, I knew, were children—children with wild imaginations, bright if sometimes shattered eyes, children with stories to tell and poems to write, about fantasies, about traumas and about hopes. The clank and mutter of staff managing the morning’s crises greeted me at the abandoned front desk; a young man shouted obscenities from a quiet room. There is so much life and love to be celebrated here. I can’t imagine the weight of turning keys all day nor of hearing the deadbolt drop. They will kick walls and scream, many of these children, maybe a few less if we can reach back, down, inward, forward or up for the language that will make violence evaporate. For the words on the page that staunch bleeding in the mind. Another life is possible for these children, but unlike the son of the Zodiac killer, they don’t get to grow up in ignorance. Can we help carve the edges off the awful things they already know? Can we pull those things out of them like tumors?

OF CRANES & GULLS: SEATTLE INNARDS

 

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The Denny Way/Broad Street exit off of 99 during morning rush hour feeds vehicles into a gridlocked bottleneck Seattle-style.  You are not merely surrounded by construction cones and signs—blazes of orange—and a few lackadaisical flaggers always smoking for some reason. It’s a virtual dystopian clusterfuck panorama: the broadside of a half-gutted, half-built condo tower that can’t help but remind one of the Death Star; lanes doglegged into zags as if by some divine civic hammer to make room for the elbows of as-yet unlaid lanes; banana yellow construction cranes framed by narrow alleys, poised to drop in or lift out a dose of steel.  Pushing back against all of this novelty are old Seattle icons: the pink neon elephant spins as ever; the space needle lays down its hypodermic shadow; the monorail chugs glumly now below much instead of above most, a depressed septuagenarian caterpillar. 

            The men who stalk the off-ramp with cardboard signs for spare change are arguably both new and old Seattle.  They have sometimes vanished due to inaudible clicks of the social service economy or city policy.  They have often reappeared in larger numbers, more haggard than before.  Today the Asker clasped the cardboard plea to his parka with one hand, a bag full of corn chips with the other, pausing to cast handfuls skyward.  Desperate gulls wheeled and screeched against the winter sun like a tribe’s ritual appeal for good favor.  The man grinned and tossed, watching the faces of commuters for reaction, reading our impressions of his wild dance of charity, hoping maybe for the same from us but delighting regardless in the rain of corn chips and gull shit on hybrid hoods, the vapor of his breath in the splintered gold of the sunrays.  One old bird perched tranquilly on his shoulder, too dignified to beg.  Just waiting for the light to change, for the man to reverse course, for our wheels to turn, for the offering, lifted to his beak.  

WHAT I TOLD THE CHAPLAIN

 

When I met God he told me you’d be surprised at the way it all shakes out these days, how virtue and vice lend each other ballast.  The depths of spirit that contradiction and hypocrisy sometimes suggest if you can—as he can—just lift the silly veil of those concepts, which are, after all, flimsy, cycled so many times through our bullshit puritanical washer.  No, God told me, while he might conjure a friendly nod for adherents to black and white Good as they giddily slog their way through the pearly gates (these are useful but inaccurate symbols, of course, as they always have been: pearly gates, God as he, etc.), but it bores him.  He finds himself most passionate about border-dancing souls regardless of where the gravity and gusts of this world ultimately cause them to land: in his cloudy grove of bliss or the fiery pits below (God sounded particularly bored with this last symbolic illustration and I sensed that if he’d had the energy he might have made quotation marks in the air around it).  He experiences a rush of the sacred now only when he can usher a controversial case into everlasting peace.  The monk who spends all week on robed knees, then bullies a Harley through the hills come Saturday, a Sig Sauer strapped to his hip.  The feminist wonk cutting her way verbally through seminar rooms and news shows who submits powerfully to brutal gangbangs when she clocks out.  The pro bono abortionist doc braving picket lines, who decided at age sixteen that he’d never be party to the medical liquidation of his own seed again.  The psychotherapist weed whacking and vine chopping through dark and tangled psyches toward fragile truths, who closes his door at night to watch back to back episodes of Lost.  The vegan yoga guru and insight meditation instructor deep into her six-pack and blunt at one a.m.  The cop that thrashes abusive husbands in the squad car.  Etc.  No, it’s not rigid adherence, not dogmatic integrity, not fanatical embrace of virtue or literal acceptance of scripture that make God’s heart skip a beat these days.  Maybe he’s just gotten old, God said, but things have changed.  And he shook my hand, but also told me that despite himself he’d probably feel a certain pleasure—definitely a thrill—when they dropped the hood over me and threw that switch.